Wednesday, October 16, 2002

Keeping Up Appearances

When it comes to politics, I’m something of a republican, but as a Canadian, I’m also pretty much a loyal monarchist. In any case, Montesquieu long ago commented that Britain was more or less a republic under the guise of a monarchy – constitutional monarchy as we in the Commonwealth call it.

Judging by Canada’s warm welcome for the Queen and Prince Philip during their recent visit to my homeland, it appears Canadians in general are quite happy with their monarch as well. Appropriately, such outpouring of support did not go unnoticed by the great BBC whose web-site fondly announced: “Canadians Behind the Queen.”

Being the BBC, however, the article quickly headed downhill, displaying a host of foolish and unfounded opinions about Canadians that ultimately speak more to current British tastes than to the reality which is Canada. And so to the article.

First of course comes the line that the Queen is popular despite “calls from republicans for an end to the monarchy.” Unfortunately, yes, there were some wretched fools who couldn’t help but make hay out of the visit. Even more unfortunate was the fact that Canada’s Deputy Prime Minister, John Manley, was among them. In his typical, “I’m a pontificating idiot” posture, Manley let loose with a font of suppositions regarding the possibility of replacing the Queen after her earthly sojourn is done with a Canadian born pseudo-monarch. The monarch would apparently be pseudo because the position would be appointed or elected but not hereditary, and would, we presume, not be a lifetime post (this is especially to be hoped for since a lifetime post would translate into another bureaucratic position for some undeserving whelp who couldn’t handle the rigors of the Ministry of State for Sport). Manley even had some thought on possible candidates: Celine Dion for instance. I’m sure the tabloids would be all aflutter.

Moving on, the BBC proceeds to inform us that “even the Canadian press has been supportive.” Which in turn leads me to wonder why this should surprise our friends on the sceptred isle. Perhaps the BBC believes the press should act as mudslinger. Or perhaps the BBC feels we should all treat the monarch like some sort of sport or entertainment personality, fawning over every move while digging through her garbage for evidence of naughty goings-on. If that’s the case, then I’m sure the BBC would quite welcome Mr. Manley’s nomination of Celine Dion as pseudo-Queen.

Thankfully, the BBC royal correspondent does us the honor of interpreting, or better yet, deconstructing the root causes of the Queen’s popularity in the Great White North. And lest you think Canadians' admiration for the monarch lies in something so banal as respect for her office as sovereign, or patriotism, or recognition of her value as a national symbol, or even a sense of deference to history and tradition, the BBC is here to clear up that faux-pas. You see, Canadians like the Queen because she’s “different.” And how might she be different? Well, according to our insightful BBC correspondent, “In Canada, anything or anyone who underlines Canada’s difference from its southern neighbour tends to be cherished.”

There you have it, Canadians have an inferiority complex and that’s why we love our Queen. Like the Nobel Committee and Jimmy Carter, we rely on the Queen to make a statement about how unAmerican we really are, snubbing the uncouth and provincial republic across our border. I suppose this would explain why Canada’s republicans dislike the monarchy, except for the fact that these same republicans, like John Manley, don’t have much use for the US either.

But alas, there may be one reason left – apart from anti-Americanism – as to why Canada loves the Queen. Quoting none other than a Toronto Star style journalist, the BBC rounds off its piece with the news that the Queen may be popular because she’s now a “fashion hottie.” We may not need Celine Dion after all.

Now, I realize the BBC correspondent was playing a bit tongue-in-cheek, and indeed some in the more respectable British press criticized the Ontario leg of the visit for being little more than a soporific peon to sterile multi-culturalism. Still, one can’t help but see signs of what “cool Britannia” and the BBC are fast becoming in this article. Far from presenting a true representation of how Canadians feel about the Queen, the BBC turns the piece into a cheap, cynical caricature that serves only to highlight the provincial and petty nature of the BBC itself. Disdain for the monarchy, knee-jerk anti-Americanism and a pathetic attempt at wit combine to form a sorry piece that is neither humorous nor informative. In the end, all we have is the prattling of a BBC journalist and a snide comment about the Queen’s fashion sense. Don’t get me wrong, I love British sarcasm, or at least I did love it back when it was intelligent and ironic. Today, it seems substantially more trite. I can’t help but feel this reflects the state of a significant swath of contemporary Britain. So I suggest that Canada and Britain make a trade: we’ll take the Queen and Patricia Routledge, you can have John Manley and Celine Dion as it seems to be a matter of keeping up appearances in any case.

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